Recently I was invited to Hickey Freeman on New York’s Madison Avenue, where, in the offices above the retail store, I found the menswear equivalent of buried treasure: Four rooms packed with thousands of documents chronicling 100 years of American history through the lens of men’s fashion.

The recently bankrupt Hartmarx Corporation — which owns the brands Hart, Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman — has brought its extensive archives out of storage and is currently at work digitizing the collection for the Internet.

The archives consist of everything from turn-of-the-century catalogs to Deco-era original oil paintings. Here’s a fraction of it:

Hickey Freeman was founded in 1899 and Hart, Schaffner & Marx in 1911, so the archives form a veritable season-by-season chronicle of American life in the 20th century as reflected through men’s clothing.

It’s hard not to underestimate the significance of such an archive; it feels like something that won’t happen again in our lifetime. After all, how many companies are there with century-old legacies, who’ve amassed such a collection of ephemera and who are cataloging it for public consumption? Brooks Brothers is twice as old, but it has also revealed much of its archival material already (in the “Generations of Style” book, for example). Also, what Hartmarx is attempting to do is comprehensive and will be free to the public online, something for which it should be commended.

The collection includes images that will appeal to every possible menswear enthusiast, from Fedora Lounge to London Lounge, Brooklyn hipsters doing the 1890s look and, of course, fans of the natural shoulders of midcentury.

The archiving process has just begun and Hartmarx has not announced when the archives will be released on the Web. But Ivy-Style has been given permission to reproduce what has been photographed and scanned so far. Much of it falls outside our purview, but here is a thematic set of Hart, Schaffner & Marx advertising art from the ’50s:

This black knit tie and yellow sweater reminds me of a celebrated photo of Jimmy Stewart:

Another dark knit tie with yellow again, but this time a tattersal vest instead of sweater. And a nice collegiate theme:

Long straight lines to the suit, soft roll to the shirt collar:

1957:

A couple of pinned club collars:

Does this guy look familiar? He should: He’s the same model for the Jolly Green Giant:

Stay tuned for more images as they become available. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD